Desert Island Comics – Episode 72 – Ian Rankin
Yes, we’re back to the special FPI Desert Island for a new season of comic making castaways. The rules are very simple; take one comic person, set them the task of picking their favourite 8 comics and one little luxury, then maroon them on their own personal desert island.
This week sees us welcome best-selling and prolific Scottish author Ian Rankin. His Inspector Rebus novels began with Knots and Crosses in 1987 and continue despite the Edinburgh based detective’s retirement with the 19th Rebus novel, Saints Of The Shadow Bible, published in 2013. Rankin’s style is hardboiled, procedural, Scottish and incredibly readable, as millions of readers worldwide will tell you.
Rankin’s also written for comics, with the John Constantine graphic novel Dark Entries, with art by Werther Dell’Edera, published in 2009. Oh, and he’s also the first person we’ve dumped on the desert island with letters after their name, he was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2002.
So, without further ado..
(Illustration by Lyndon Hayes from The Guardian,2012)
Desert Island Comics – Episode 72 – Ian Rankin (OBE)
I started reading comics at a very young age. It was the early-1960s, where DC Thomson reigned in the kingdom of affordable literacy. My parents weren’t great readers, but they indulged my passion for cheap comics and Ladybird books. At one time, I think I had ten or twelve weekly comics on order at our village newsagent: Victor, Hotspur, Commando, Beano, Dandy, Look-In, Lion, Tiger, Whizzer and Chips, etc etc – plus the obligatory Look and Learn to please mum and dad, and anything with Gerry Anderson’s name attached. Then there were regular helpings of Oor Wullie and The Broons in the Sunday Post. Added to which, a cousin sometimes got sent selections of funnies from American newspapers, courtesy of a relative based there. American comics were available, though slightly dearer than Dundee’s output, and I couldn’t always rely on finding the next issue in a series, meaning Spider-Man and Batman storylines went unfinished, which in turn meant I had to supply endings from my imagination. I was also creating my own comics, folding sheets of paper into quarters and then slicing the edges to make 8-page issues which I would fill with stick drawings and speech bubbles.
So…choosing eight comics was never going to be easy, because that early immersion led to a lifetime’s appreciation of the form.
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #1 – Zip Nolan from Lion Comics, here with Joe Colquhoun art)
But I’m kicking off with Zip Nolan. He was a Highway Patrolman, and when I knew him he was appearing in the Lion comic, in 2-page stories which always featured a clue of some kind. If you spotted the clue, you would solve the mystery alongside Zip. This was my entry to crime fiction and the figure of the everyman detective, and that’s why he’s here.
Eventually 2000AD came along, and that was an exciting time – so many great stories and characters, plus eye-popping art. Alan Moore got his start on 2000AD and I loved his Time Twister stories. But I really really loved DR and Quinch, so they are my second choice. I had so much fun hanging out with those guys, and their adventures in Hollywood with a mumbling, illiterate Marlon Brando-alike still make me laugh.
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #2 – DR and Quinch by Alan Moore and Alan Davis)
It was only natural that when Alan Moore moved to DC’s Swamp Thing I would follow him. What a great run he had, bringing gothic horror to contemporary America. I’ve always preferred my comic book heroes to be human rather than extra-terrestrial, but Moore could make me care about anyone and anything. And of course, somewhere along that road he also gave us John Constantine…
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #3 – Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, art here by Rick Veitch, John Totleben)
I was with Hellblazer from the very first issue. It was such an honour to be given the chance to pen my own Constantine story [Dark Entries], but I was first and foremost a fan of this complex, morally dubious good guy, as brought to life by Jamie Delano. John happens to think and talk like the archetypal Private Eye of so many Hollywood movies, and it’s possible that he led me to an appreciation of American crime fiction. I was soon watching The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon – and reading the novels, too.
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #4 – Hellblazer, here by Jamie Delano and with cover art from Dave McKean)
Which brings me – thematically rather than chronologically – to The Bogie Man. What a hoot that short series proved to be! Alan Grant and John Wagner gave it such genuine Scottish humour, and Robin Smith’s art was the perfect accompaniment. It’s the story of an escaped mental patient who looks like Humphrey Bogart and thinks he is a private eye, so that everything happening around him becomes part of his evolving fantasy. As a Scot, it was such a thrill to see contemporary Glasgow and Edinburgh depicted in the series.
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #5 – The Bogie Man by Alan Grant, John Wagner and Robin Smith)
I know, I know – there’s a lot of Alan Moore around, and in choosing him, I’m forced to leave out other creators whose work I really admire. The Boys, The Losers, Metropolitan, Faust, Stray Toasters, Cinders and Ashe and many other titles were on my longlist – whittling it down to eight proved a brutal act of editing. But here is Mr Moore again with Watchmen, a comic so good I named one of my early novels (Watchman) in honour of it. Watchmen was proper grown-up storytelling. Dave Gibbons’ art was gob-smacking, and the arc of the story merited it. The one time I met Moore, I got him to sign issue 1 for me. That, as we say in the trade, is a keeper…
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #6 – Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)
Two artists really got my juices flowing as a young man – Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz. I’ve opted for Frank Miller’s Elektra: Assassin over his Dark Knight on the strength of Sienkiewicz’s art. It’s such a gloriously wild, eccentric, psychedelic ride. There are pages that would work as standalone paintings, and though I occasionally struggled to make sense of the story, the pictures were always more than enough!
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #7 – Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz)
Okay, we’re nearly there now. As I said at the start, I still love comics. Right now, favourites include Ed Brubaker’s Velvet, Josh Fialkov’s The Bunker, and Rick Spears’ truly demented The Auteur (which reminds me of DR and Quinch in Hollywood, as penned by Warren Ellis). But I’m going to end with another Brubaker title – Fatale. I loved Criminal (with art by Sean Phillips), which was rousing, authentic, old school noir, filled with punch-ups, gun-play, jeopardy and sex. But Fatale takes this to another level by adding a Lovecraftian element. The jacket of the trade edition describes it as ‘Horror/Mystery’ which is just about right, but it combines intelligent storytelling with nuanced art to create something really special.
(Ian Rankin’s Desert Island Comics pick #8 – Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips)
Okay, so those are my eight. Ask me again tomorrow and I might not quite agree with them, but they’ll do me fine for now, and they’d certainly provide me with plenty of entertainment on a desert island.
And my luxury? A pinball machine. I can play all day, then shelter under it at night. And when I’m ready to leave my desert island, I can scoop out the innards, turn it over, and use it as a canoe…